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A cut above

Suranjan Banerjee tracks us down to Mahesh, his barber at Ranchi, who was an encyclopaedia of the city?s events, past and present.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2006 01:11 IST

Mahesh, my barber at Ranchi, was an encyclopaedia of the city’s events, past and present. Very close to his shop was a big villa with a sprawling, manicured lawn. During World War II, this villa had functioned as a guesthouse for the high-ranking foreign officers of the armed forces. Mahesh had served as barber at the villa.

Whenever summoned to the villa, Mahesh had to report to the reception room, from where he would be escorted to a room guarded by two rifle-bearing men. Here, he would sterilise his instruments in front of a soldier, with the antiseptic provided by the army. Then, the officer whose hair was to be cut would enter the room. After completing the hair cut, Mahesh would collect his fees from the reception room and leave.

According to Mahesh, military police guarding the villa and its adjoining areas was a common occurrence during those days. But some time in 1944, a heavy influx of military police into the area drew everybody’s attention. People started speculating about it, and some said Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had been arrested and was being brought to Ranchi.

One day, Mahesh was summoned to the villa. He went through the usual routine and waited for the officer whose hair was to be cut. In came a handsome and aristocratic man of about 45, escorted by two heavily-armed bodyguards. Mahesh said usually the officers who summoned him were of a reddish complexion. But this one was ivory white. After the hair cut, the officer looked at himself in the mirror, and commented, “Nice.” He smiled at Mahesh and left.

Then one day, by sheer chance, Mahesh glanced at a newspaper and saw a photograph of Lord Mountbatten and recognised him as the same handsome, aristocratic, fair-complexioned officer whom he had given a hair cut at the villa.

Lord Mountbatten had come to India as a Viceroy, and had then become the Governor-General of independent India. His photographs appeared regularly in newspapers. Mahesh, being illiterate, was blissfully unaware of this.

First Published: Oct 25, 2006 01:11 IST